Tense, Tight: Giants-Braves opener has playoff feel, Arcia propels Atlanta to a 2-1 win

By Morris Phillips

Supposedly there have been a bunch of lopsided results between the Giants and Braves over the last ten seasons, just not one on Monday night.

The opener of the four-game series at Truist Park was a pitcher’s duel with the Braves sneaking past the Giants with Orlando Arcia’s game-winning RBI single in the ninth. Max Fried and Logan Webb were brilliant, allowing just one run each, but neither was around when Arcia’s hard-hit, ground ball to the left side of the infield saw daylight.

The Giants had a pair of opportunities late to knock in a go-ahead run with a runner at third and just one out, but failed both times. Wilmer Flores struck out with the bases loaded in the eighth, and Thairo Estrada struck out facing Kenley Jansen in the ninth with runners at second and third.

With less than 70 games played this season, the Giants and Braves have already eyeballed each other with both trying to at least take advantage of the new postseason format and finish with the best record among non-division winners and gain homefield advantage in the opening round. Currently, both teams are looking up at the first place teams in their division, the Mets in the NL East and the Dodgers in the West.

Camilo Doval walked Matt Olson to leadoff the ninth on four pitches. The only free pass issued by the Giants all evening would be their undoing Marcell Ozuna singled to move Olson up, ahead of Arcia’s base hit with two outs.

Fried went seven innings, striking out eight and walking two. He was saddled with a no-decision when the Giants pushed a run across in the eighth. Fried has yet to lose to the Giants after five starts and one relief appearance.

Webb also pitched seven innings and allowed a run, while striking out seven and walking none. Travis D’Arnaud’s second inning homer was the only blemish for Webb, who has allowed six home runs this season–all on the road.

Joc Pederson received his World Series ring before the game, he was a late season acquisition by the Braves last year that contributed to their run to the title despite getting limited at-bats in the World Series. Pederson, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford were all absent from the Giants’ starting lineup, but all three got pinch-hitting assignments.

The Giants will activate Anthony DeSclafani for a start in Tuesday’s game, his first action since being injured in April. Spencer Strider will get the start for the Braves, who have won 16 of 18.

Rockies Rise Up: After a string of poor results in SF, Colorado gets the best of the Giants with series-clinching 4-2 win

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The best case scenario for the up-and-down Giants was to use the Rockies’ visit as a confidence-building spring board into their big series with the division-leading Dodgers over the weekend.

That wasn’t how the last three days played out.

The Giants squandered a win-worthy pitching performance from Logan Webb, going the final seven innings scoreless in a 4-2 loss to Colorado on Thursday afternoon. Four errors, two in the same inning by second baseman Thairo Estrada, didn’t help Webb or the Giants.

“I don’t think we played our best defense,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s a really tough league when you’re not converting ground balls into outs. I think we’ve seen consistently a better brand of defense than we’ve played today.”

The Giants appeared to be doing their thing, scoring early with two runs in the second, and then turning to Webb to shut down an opponent that’s experienced very little success at Oracle Park over the last three seasons. Then a sloppy fourth inning turned that strategy to mush, as the Rockies struck for three runs, the product of three singles and three Giants’ errors. In that mix, Estrada first dropped a fly ball, then booted a ground ball when baserunner C.J. Cron apparently distracted him as he ran to second base.

All the upheaval definitely threw Webb off his game. The Giants’ pop-up ace was in sights of a 18th, consecutive start punctuated by a win at home, and he was pitching accordingly. Instead he was lifted in the sixth, trailing, after allowing six singles and a double to Charlie Blackmon. Webb struck out three, walked one and pitched efficiently, starting 20 of the 26 batters he faced with a strike.

Webb also got a great deal of support from Austin Wynns, the Giants’ newly acquired catcher in a trade with Philadelphia, who picked up a pair of hits, a run batted in, and almost immediately appeared locked into the program behind the plate.

He was awesome,” Webb said of Wynns. “He came up to me before the game … and he was like, ‘I watched your last four outings. You do this and this and this. I’m like, you know more about what I do than I’m actually thinking about doing.”

But none of the good stuff added up, not with the Giants’ offense absent after the second inning. In Monday’s loss to the Rockies, they did the same thing, scoring three runs in the first, and going the remaining eight innings scoreless. Austin Gomber, with six losses coming in and an ERA hoovering around six, made it work, throwing six innings to get the win. Manager Bud Black had kind words for Gomber and all his guys, who he noted didn’t give in to the prevailing story line of doom at Oracle Park, where they had lost 14 of 19.

“We strung some hits together,” Black said. “That was big as well. We stayed on the attack against a very tough pitcher. They helped us a little bit in the fourth defensively. But our guys kept battling.”

The Giants’ offense will get a boost from Brandon Belt and Lamonte Wade Jr., but neither slugger will be available for the Dodgers this weekend. The Giants are also down a starter with Alex Cobb on the shelf, meaning they’ll undoubtedly go the bullpen route in at least one of the last two games with the Dodgers giving the ball to Walker Buehler Friday and Julio Urias on Saturday.

Looking for the thrilling sequel to the 2021 NLDS series between the two clubs. Well, if so, the Giants are going to need to pick up their game under trying circumstances.

Jakob Junis gets his first appearance against the Dodgers in the Friday opener opposite Buehler at 7:15pm.

Is This The Road Trip That Propels The Giants?: The Reds, Marlins and Phillies may not be so accommodating

By Morris Phillips

With the home fans fed up with a leaky bullpen, and voicing that displeasure, the Giants are hitting the road. This could be good: none of the three teams–Reds, Phillies and Marlins–that the Giants are visiting have winning records at home.

Just what the Giants need to break out, and regain their 2021 form? Well, not so fast. Their opponents are all playing better baseball, and the Giants need to lift their game too. They’ve dropped 14 of their last 25 ballgames bringing into question whether they’re positioned to take advantage of a break in their schedule.

The rollercoaster Reds are the best example: after a horrendous 3-22 start to the season, they’ve been pretty good. On Thursday, the Reds wiped out the Cubs 20-5, their 11th win in their last 19 games.

“Splitting the series, especially against the Cubs in your division, gives the guys in the clubhouse some confidence,” said Cincinnati’s Kyle Farmer, who hit two home runs in the blowout. “Our lineup, we hit the ball really well today. We’ve got to keep carrying it on.”

“We haven’t had too many of those, and they don’t come around too often,” Reds manager David Bell said. “For us, those games can carry over.”

Entering Great American Ballpark less than 24 hours after the Reds drop a 20-spot can be intimidating. But thankfully, the Reds are a rebuilding club that scoring fewer than four runs per game on average and have hit just 37 home runs which ranks them in baseball’s bottom third. And no one’s seen this: the last time the Reds scored 20 runs was September 1999 when they were still in old Riverfront Stadium (Cinergy Field).

These Reds have a not-so-youthful core trying to establish themselves, along with veterans Joey Votto (.156 batting average) and Tommy Pham (.233) trying to regain their strokes. Infielder Jonathan India may be their most promising position player, but he’s appeared in only 11 games due to injury.

What the Giants are sure to notice is the Reds’ porous pitching staff which is allowing 5.71 runs per game and has already gifted their opposition with 56 home runs. Given that, the Giants should be well positioned, but there is the issue of the Reds playing better baseball of late.

The Phillies loosely constructed collection of veteran sluggers has held up defensively, but that hasn’t boosted their pitching staff, which is allowing more than four runs a game. Bryce Harper is injured and unable to throw and play defense, but he’s settled into his DH role for the next six weeks until his elbow heals up. J.T. Realmuto is another bright spot who routinely cuts down opponents’ running games. But overall, the Phillies have been in and lost too many high scoring games.

The Marlins look to be better, and they’ve been much more competitive, but at 18-24 few will notice the difference. What stands out is the team’s promising starting pitchers, and the pitching staff’s impressive 3.38 ERA. What ails them is their propensity to lose close ballgames, which explains why they’ve scored more than they’ve given up but have a losing record.

Former Athletic Jesus Luzardo is dealing with a forearm strain so that means a new face could emerge in the final game of the road trip. The Marlins are pondering bringing up their fourth-ranked prospect Edward Cabrera, who struck out 11 in six innings in his most recent minor league start. Prior to that, the Giants will have their hands full with Miami starters Elise Hernandez and Pablo Lopez.

Giants Good Again in 2022, Just Not In the Manner They Were Good in 2021

by Morris Phillips

Expanded playoffs, universal designated hitters, shrinking batting averages and greater reliance on relief pitchers. Seemingly, all of baseball’s newest machinations favor the Giants and their preferred methods of competing.

Currently the Giants are bundled with three other NL clubs (Dodgers, Mets, Brewers) at the top of the standings in the first season in which six teams will qualify for postseason play in both leagues. No more roll of the dice in a Wild Card game means no one goes home after an initial, bad playoff game. When you’ve got a great shot to be in, it’s even better if you can’t all of a sudden be out.

Throughout baseball, batting averages are down, as is scoring. Trying to buck that trend are the Giants with their .248 team batting average, well above the .235 number that this season is considered average among the 30 teams. The Giants also are averaging 5.11 runs per game, which trails only the Dodgers. But those key metrics don’t mean that individual sluggers on the team haven’t had their struggles. Benefitting the Giants of course, is their philosophy to seek game-altering extra-base hits and homers at the expense of on-base percentage and playing the old-school, station-to-station game.

Given that, the Giants still draw their walks (ranking second with 144 free passes), utilize the sacrifice fly (they rank first with 20), and steal bases consistently, if not frequently with 21 steals and only six caught stealing situations. Those numbers weigh heavier given that the Giants aren’t a record-breaking, home run-hitting club this season with only 40 hit so far.

What they do is hit more than their opponent by a nice margin augmented by their league-low 26 home runs allowed. And when those home runs are hit, it’s usually in a close, low-scoring game. That combination, as it was in 2021, is a real weapon for the Giants: they win close games.

A major piece of that formula is the team’s bullpen which is currently loaded with standouts from closer Camilo Doval with seven saves to Taylor Rogers, John Brebbia and Jarlin Garcia as the key, setup options. With so many returners from last season in the team’s bullpen, comparisons are easy. And so far, this year’s group’s been that much better than last’s.

The Giants have won 8 of 11 leading into Friday night’s meeting with the Padres. In the coming weeks the Giants will see the Padres, Mets and the Dodgers, teams they need to measure themselves against in preparation for a possible, postseason appearance.

On Friday, Jakob Junis gets the starting nod in a matchup with San Diego’s Sean Manaea.

Giants, Webb run out of steam and blow their lead in a 5-3 loss to the Rockies

By Morris Phillips

As often happens, the decision to lift an effective, but laboring starting pitcher can be agonizing.

The decision to remove Logan Webb in the eighth inning on Wednesday was a no-win for the Giants and manager Gabe Kapler. Literally.

Trailing 3-2 to the Giants, and facing the likelihood of a record, 13th consecutive loss to their division rivals, the host Rockies rallied with three runs to gain a critical 5-3 win.

Connor Joe drew a leadoff walk against Webb, ending his streak of 16 consecutive, retired hitters, and that opened the door for Colorado. With Webb at 100 pitches, Kapler decided to remove his starter for reliever Jose Alvarez.

“After the second, which I thought was the more challenging inning, (Webb) was as good as we saw last year,” Kapler said. “This is a very, very challenging place to pitch into the eighth inning. I thought it was one of the better performances in recent memory for Logan.”

It also wasn’t the spot to lean heavily on his ace, thought Kapler. This early in the season, and with an effective bullpen cast ready to go. A two-run lead also provided Alvarez, who hadn’t given up a home run in more than 56 innings of work, a nice cushion.

But Charlie Blackmon sacrificed Joe to second, Yonathan Daza followed with an RBI single and C.J. Cron gave the Rockies a two-run lead with his long home run off Alvarez.

“We’d done a nice job up until that point with Cron,” Kapler said. “He hasn’t taken his best swings against us, which I think is a positive for our pitching staff. It’s really tough to fall behind him. He then is able to sit on a pitch like he did right there, and look, he’s one of the better right-handed hitters in baseball.”

Tyler Kinley retired the Giants in the eighth, and Daniel Bard recovered from a blown save on Monday to get the visitors out in the ninth, ending an agonizing slide for the Rockies, who were also trying to avoid a fourth straight loss overall.

The Giants concluded their road swing with a 3-3 record through Denver and St. Louis. They open a homestand on Friday night against the Padres.

Mike Yastrzemski had an RBI single on Wednesday and Austin Slater and Darin Ruf contributed run scoring, sacrifice flies. Ruf put the Giants in front in the fourth, and Webb cruised into the eighth. But it wasn’t enough to earn the Giants a sweep.

Sean Manaea gets the start for San Diego on Friday, and Jakob Junis goes for the Giants as they continue to utilize a bullpen strategy in the absence of injured starter Anthony DeSclafani.

Giants’ group mentality winning games again in 2022, despite individual losses and additions

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–Buster Posey retired, Kevin Gausman left town in search of big bucks, and yes, the Dodgers did everything but disappear. And somehow the Giants persevered, and in many ways got better.

Better than 107 regular season wins? We’ll see.

The common wisdom has been that the Giants don’t have to break a franchise-record for regular season wins for a second, straight season to be better. Trying to do so in competition with the Dodgers, and within the new reality of expanded playoffs would be unnecessary. But within an organization built on incremental improvement and fine tuning, the Giants–through 31 games–have shown signs of ascendancy.

The 2022 Giants don’t hit home runs like they did in 2021, but they’re positively stingy in giving them up. The pitching staff has allowed just 17 round trippers in 31 games, and they’ve issued just 84 walks. The theme: nothing easy for opposing hitters, and as the team’s offense kicks in, these pitching numbers grow in significance.

Evan Longoria, LaMonte Wade Jr., Steven Duggar, Brandon Belt and Tommy LaStella (who has yet to debut in 2022) have missed sizeable pieces of the schedule, reducing the potency of the offense. In their place Luis Gonzales, Thairo Estrada, Joc Pederson and Wilmer Flores have picked up their games, and kept the basepaths moving. Compensating for the relative lack of homers (32 hit in 31 games), the Giants led MLB in sacrifice flies (17) and 20 stolen bases put the team in the top five across baseball. Can’t hammer ’em? Finesse ’em, be resourceful. The Giants have clearly gotten the message.

The team’s bullpen has been fantastic so far, easily the best unit of the ballclub to date. No fewer than seven, heavy usage relievers sport ERAs of less than 3.38. Jake McGee, last season’s closer is the one outlier and he’s landed on the injured list partly in hopes he can recapture his effectiveness.

The Giants’ schedule–as we can envision it now–is challenging throughout. That’s the case succinctly in the coming weeks with the Cardinals, Mets, Padres and the Phillies before they host the Dodgers for the first time on June 10.

On Friday, Logan Webb goes for a MLB-leading fifth win on Friday night in St. Louis. The Cardinals have Jordan Hicks has their expected starter.

Giants/Dodgers 2022 Is Here: What to know

By Morris Phillips

The Dodgers-Giants rivalry got a lot more entrenched last season after the teams combined for 213 regular season wins and an incredible 5-game series in the NLDS. None other than Vin Scully proclaimed Game 5 as the biggest, single game in the century-plus series.

The Giants lost Game 5, and the Dodgers lost in the next round to the Braves, who won the World Series, not the Dodgers or the Giants. But the memories and excitement persist, how could they not?

“It was phenomenal. It was a lot of fun. I think it was probably fun for all the fans that got to witness that,” manager Gabe Kapler said of last year’s high-level duel.

So 2022 is here, the rivalry returns Tuesday in Dodger Stadium, and both teams are still plenty capable of ruining things for each other and winning it all. Let’s get caught up:

The Dodgers saw big names move in and out, and one big name stay put. Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Max Scherzer left the Dodgers, while Freddie Freeman got a generous deal to leave the Braves and come to LA. Clayton Kershaw turned down some offers, and opted not to retire. So far this season–his 15th in Los Angeles–he’s been up to old tricks. It’s a slightly younger, less experienced team, but still heralded as the Series favorite. More importantly, the Dodgers are so good offensively and defensively, no other team comes close. Not surprisingly, they lead MLB in run differential despite seven losses to date (+47).

The Giants didn’t act all crazy in free agency and worked the margins of their roster with a couple of low-profile upgrades. But the results aren’t bad: Through 22 games, the Giants have the highest scoring offense in baseball with nearly five runs a game, and they won 14 times.

Heading into the series, the Giants have to be worried about their personnel with a couple names returning and a sizeable group still injured. At least one outfielder, LaMonte Wade Jr. will return and Mike Yastrzemski is a possibility for Tuesday.

The Dodgers position group is completely healthy, while their pitching staff has some omissions. Blake Treinen, Dustin May, Andrew Heaney and David Price are all out, and none are expected this week.

The Giants get an opportunity to make an early impression with Carlos Rodon, the hottest performer on either roster. Rodon has struck out a franchise-record (for debut pitchers) 38 batters and won three times in four starts.

Giants Good Again: Any drop-off from last season’s 107 wins? None yet

By Morris Phillips

A better win percentage than the Giants had in last season’s 107-win campaign? Weren’t they supposed to experience some measure of dropoff?

Yes, of course. A baseball team’s not supposed to better its best season in over 110 seasons. But so far, the Giants–purely by measure of wins and losses–are better.

And better despite two sidelined starting pitchers–Alex Cobb and Anthony DeSclafani–and fewer healthy outfielders than unhealthy ones. Yeah, they’ve taken advantage of a couple of downtrodden opponents but they’ve squeezed teams like the Nats and the Guardians for all they were worth.

The Giants led baseball in one significant category: fewest runs allowed, a real testament to the depth of quality arms, starting and relieving, they have. Offensively, they’ve been spotty, and overall good, but notably they don’t appear to be a threat to lead all teams in home runs like last season even if it’s just because they haven’t gotten off to a flying start.

The missing pieces–Mike Yastrzemski, Lamont Wade Jr., Austin Slater and now early pacesetter Joc Pedersen–are troubling, but none are expected to miss huge chunks of time. Other guys like Brandon Belt and Darin Ruf are on pace for better campaigns than last which really helps compensate for the absences.

Nothing speaks to the team’s success better than their different methods to win ballgames starting with their calling card: winning close games with big hits late. But they also score early, add on and frustrate opponents through the lopsided scores. They win low scoring ballgames with pitching and defense, and they concede the lead and rally soon there after to win.

The starting rotation isn’t among the National League’s best as some trumpeted, but three fifths of the rotation has been stellar with Logan Webb as the ace, Carlos Rodon and Alex Wood as the best supporting arms. Webb simply hasn’t shown much let up and that’s after factoring in that he finally dropped a home game at Oracle Park.

Rodon established a new franchise record for strikeouts to start a season, and his focus and success immediately after signing a hefty, two-year deal speaks of his professionalism.

Giants Are Good, But What About Their Competitors?

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–When your ballclub’s won 111 of their last 168 regular season contests, you don’t lose sleep at night. But just how comfortably do you sleep?

Starting with the hated, rival Dodgers, the Giants clearly have company at the top. The Padres are in the mix as well making the NL West arguably the toughest division in baseball. Both teams dipped into their wallets to beef up their lineups with San Diego adding slugger Luke Voit, and the Dodgers acquiring Freddie Freeman.

The Giants prioritize bringing back their division-winning lineup from 2021, and they did so with the exception of letting Kevin Gausman walk in free agency and seeing iconic catcher Buster Posey abruptly retire.

The result? The Giants aren’t widely considered to be the club to repeat atop the NL West putting them squarely in the position to prove themselves once again.

Internally, the Giants aren’t necessarily at odds with how prognosticators see them. President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi would likely admit his 2021 club arrived a year or two ahead of schedule. In keeping with that mentality, the off-season was not as eventful as eager fans would have preferred. The team’s big acquisition was both below the radar and measured. White Sox starter Carlos Rodon was given a two-year deal likely as safety measure acknowledging the hurler’s recent injury history.

Instead of splashy, the Giants appear content to roll out their youthful talents like LaMonte Wade Jr., Joey Bart and Heliot Ramos. From a pitching perspective, the Giants are prepared to weather growing pains from closer Camilo Doval in an attempt to see what top-end talents they can unearth from within. It’s a wise approach, and one Zaidi and his staff have doubled down on after their early successes.

Consequently, 107 more wins isn’t the goal, but consistent play in part featuring the younger Giants led by starter Logan Webb is. That won’t scare the Dodgers, Padres, Mets or the World Champion Braves. But the Giants hope it’s enough to command their attention.

If the Giants perform, the trade deadline could be interesting. They have the wherewithal to make additions to boost their program in August and September.

Caught In A Webb: Padres no match for Giants’ consistent ace, fall 2-1 in series finale

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–How good is Logan Webb?

Really good, consistently good, Tim Lincecum good, and since his truncated Major League debut that saw him pitch intermittently in 2019 and 2020, noticeably good.

And how good was he on this blustery Wednesday afternoon at Oracle Park? Good.

“Logan definitely held up his end of the bargain,” according to manager Gabe Kapler.

“I think at this point he’s ready for a full workload. I thought his sinker was particularly sharp today. And then the last inning of work in the eighth, he was really working fast. You could tell their was a full head of steam and a lot of confidence, and I thought that was his best inning.”

Webb became the first pitcher in either league this season to pitch eight innings, in what was the lengthiest stint in his career thus far, while befuddling the Padres in a 2-1 Giants’ win. The 25-year old threw 96 pitches, allowing four hits, a first-inning run and no walks. Kapler admitted he briefly thought about bringing Webb back out for the ninth.

“We haven’t hit our stride offensively yet,” Padres’ manager Bob Melvin said. “But Webb was really good today. Enough breaking balls too, to just keep you off the kind of the moving away fastballs, sinker/changeup. Yeah, he’s a pretty good pitcher.”

If anything, Melvin knows what it supposed to look like as a big league manager for nearly two decades following a lengthy career a big league catcher. And no doubt, his ringing endorsement confirms that Webb has what it takes. Keeping hitters off-balance, rarely allowing solid contact, and doing so by interchanging pitches that initially look the same but send big league batters into guess mode.

Jake Cronenworth’s RBI triple, and Manny Machado’s double that preceded Cronenworth were San Diego’s only highlights. After that Webb worked fast, and Padres’ batters sat down. The ninth inning offered an amazing opportunity as closer Camilo Doval had issues, allowing a hit, a walk then hitting Jurickson Profar to load the bases. But Doval dialed it back, getting three, successive strikes on sliders against pinch-hitter Matt Beatty to end the game.

The Giants didn’t do much against Sean Manaea, but what they did was enough. In the second, Heliot Ramos drew a walk, Mauricio Dubon–the subject of Tuesday’s flashpoint–singled, and Luke Williams doubled home two runs. After the third inning, the Giants got one hit: Wilmer Flores’ single that preceded Ramos hitting into a double play.

The crisply played ballgame also helped diffuse the bad feelings running through both clubhouses surrounding Dubon’s bunt single in Tuesday’s game with the Giants holding a big lead that frustrated the Padres, and led to a brief exchange between bench coaches Mike Shildt and Antoan Richardson. Richardson was ejected after Shildt’s choice of words infuriated Richardson, and led him to claim that Shildt’s words were racist in tone. In a mature gesture from both men, they met prior to the game, and spoke in conciliatory terms before discussing the incident with the media.

Almost overshadowed by the dustup and the ejection, was Alyssa Nakken’s debut as a first base coach, making her the first woman to be an on field participant in a Major League game.

The Giants’ rare opening week at home produced a pair of 2-1 series victories, and a 4-2 record that has them ahead of the Padres and Dodgers, but behind the 4-1 Rockies in the early, early snapshot of the NL West standings.

The Giants experience their only day off in the season’s first three weeks on Thursday before opening a three-game set in Cleveland against the newly-rebranded Guardians.